National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) is an annual observance aimed at increasing education, testing, treatment, and prevention of HIV in Black communities and communities of color. It’s also an important day to raise awareness around the disproportionate impact of HIV in Black communities, and what we can do to turn the tides.
According to the CDC, Black people accounted for 13% of the U.S. population but 40% of people with HIV in 2019. HIV also remains a leading cause of death in the Black community – especially among young Black women – who were 14 times more likely to be diagnosed with HIV in 2018 than their white counterparts.
In recent years, research continues to demonstrate that the social determinants of health such as housing, income, education, food security, and insurance status – to name a few – are the leading indicators of health outcomes and health disparities among certain populations. To reduce the burden of HIV in Black communities, we must address the structural barriers to accessing health care.
Community health centers like Callen-Lorde care for about 28 million Americans per year. 91% of patients at community health centers are low-income, and more than half are from communities of color. At Callen-Lorde, 25% of our patients are living with HIV, 1/3 are uninsured, and 43% are people of color. We rely on a range of different funding that allows us to provide these services, including from foundations like the Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation.
Today, there are many ways to prevent and treat HIV, but many people do not have access to these methods. By providing equitable access to care and reducing factors such as discrimination, stigma, and shame, we can overcome HIV.
One of the most important tools for HIV prevention is PrEP, or Pre-exposure prophylaxis. PrEP is a medication that, when taken correctly, can reduce that risk of HIV transmission by up to 99%. A recent study showed that 44% of the people who could benefit from PrEP are Black but only 1% of PrEP users are Black. Education, access, and reducing stigma are key to increasing the uptake of PrEP.
Another important HIV prevention method is PEP, or post-exposure prophylaxis. PEP is a medication taken after a potential exposure to prevent transmission of HIV. PEP is highly effective if taken within 72 hours of a potential exposure.
U=U, or “Undetectable = Untransmittable” is another important guiding principle when considering the importance of HIV treatment as a prevention strategy. By taking HIV medication as prescribed, a person can achieve what is known as an undetectable viral load – meaning the amount of HIV in a persons’ blood is so low, it cannot be passed onto others via sex. In addition to reducing transmission, people living with HIV can lead long and healthy lives by taking medicines that keep the virus undetectable.
By ensuring equitable access to health care – including methods for treatment and prevention – we can help to reduce the burden of HIV in Black communities.
We must also address the systemic barriers that contribute to these health disparities, such as bias, racism, and economic disenfranchisement. We have the tools to end the HIV epidemic, and we need equitable distribution to ensure a healthier future.
-Dr. Marcus Sandling, Clinical Director of Sexual Health at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center
Callen-Lorde is the global leader in LGBTQ health care. Since the days of Stonewall, we have been transforming lives in LGBTQ communities through excellent comprehensive care, provided free of judgment and regardless of ability to pay. In addition, we are continuously pioneering research, advocacy and education to drive positive change around the world, because we believe healthcare is a human right. Learn more at callen-lorde.org